How to Grill Tuna
Easy tips, the Yummly Smart Thermometer, and 10 favorite grilled tuna steak recipes add up to perfect results
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Fresh tuna is meaty and prized for its mild flavor and silky texture. Served raw, it’s a star on sushi menus, and seared on the grill, it’s very popular at other restaurants. While we frequently order fresh tuna when we go out to dinner, most of us rarely think about serving tuna at home.
It’s not an availability issue that keeps tuna off our dining room tables. Most supermarkets with a decent fish counter carry fresh or frozen tuna steaks that would be excellent grilled for supper. So what’s stopping us from enjoying fresh tuna at home?
I would wager that it’s fear that keeps us from grilling a nice tuna steak. I admit it, I used to be afraid to grill tuna. Like most of us, I had the misconception that I would overcook or undercook the fish, and worst of all, it would stick and fall apart. (Full disclosure, I did all those things, ruining dinner on more than one occasion.)
Have I scared you away yet? I hope not, because this story has a happy ending!
Grilling a tuna steak to perfection is super easy, once you know a few tricks. And now it’s easier than ever, thanks to the latest version of the Yummly Smart Thermometer*. Through the Yummly app on your phone the thermometer tracks the temperature of the fish and tells you when to flip it and when to take it off so it’s done just the way you like.
Let's fire up the grill and cook the most delicious, moist and tender tuna.
* The tuna setting is available exclusively on the latest version of the Yummly Smart Thermometer, model # YTE010W5MB.
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Tips and tricks for the best grilled tuna
Grilling tuna is easy with a few simple guidelines.
Why is tuna good for grilling?
Tuna has a mild, pleasant flavor and an appealing tender texture. Like salmon, halibut, and swordfish, tuna is a firm-flesh fish, which means it’s unlikely to fall apart on the bbq. The key is to use steaks that are at least 1 inch thick from end to end. Thinner fillets cook too quickly, often dry out, and tend to break apart.
How to choose fresh tuna
There are many types of tuna, ranging from deep pinkish-red to light pink. Avoid tuna that is pale, looks very dry, or has a yellowish hue — these are indicators that the tuna is probably less than fresh. The most available variety of fresh tuna is yellowfin tuna, also known as ahi tuna. It has a pinkish-red color and mild flavor and a faint scent of the ocean. (Sometimes ahi is incorrectly called yellowtail, but that’s actually a different fish.)
To cook grilled ahi tuna steaks, look for steaks that are at least 1 inch thick.
How to keep tuna from sticking to the grill
To avoid the disappointment (not to mention possible hunger pains!) of tuna sticking to the grill, be sure to follow these simple tips.
Use a hot grill. Preheat your grill to 450° to 550°F.
Start with clean grill grates. Once the grill is hot, use a grill brush to clean off any bits of food that may be stuck to the cooking grates from the last time you grilled. These could prevent the tuna from browning and cause it to stick.
Oil the tuna. Brush or rub your tuna generously and evenly with vegetable oil, but don’t overdo it, or you could get flare-ups that will scorch your fish.
Sear, and leave it alone until it’s time to flip. When I teach cooking classes, this is the hardest lesson for my students. If you wait until the fish is browned on the underside, it will release easily. If you go to flip your tuna and it feels stuck, leave it for another minute or two.
Only glaze the grilled side. Glazes, especially ones with natural or added sugar, can quickly go from nicely caramelized to scorched, and could cause the fish to stick. Wait until you’ve flipped the tuna, then brush only the top (grilled) side with glaze. Serve extra glaze or sauce at the table.
How to flip tuna on the grill so it won’t fall apart
Even though tuna is naturally firm, a misguided grab with tongs can pull it apart. Instead of tongs, use a wide spatula to slide under tuna steaks and flip them over on the grill.
What temperature to grill tuna
Tuna grills well over high heat (450° to 550°F). High heat helps to prevent sticking, ensures good browning, and cooks the tuna quickly enough to keep it moist.
The high heat also means if you leave the tuna on a little too long it can quickly turn out more done than you want. So keep an eye on the clock, use a thermometer, or both!
How long to grill tuna steaks
Now, if you have the latest version of the Yummly Smart Thermometer, you can just choose the tuna setting and doneness you prefer, and let the Yummly app guide you to the finish line. But if not, here are cooking guidelines for how long to grill tuna steaks for different levels of doneness. We’re assuming a hot grill at 450° to 550°F over direct high heat (meaning, the fire is directly beneath the food). These guidelines go for both charcoal grills and gas grills.
Important: Tuna rises in temperature about 10°F once it comes off the grill. You’re aiming for the final temperatures below, so pull the fish from the heat when the internal temperature is about 10 degrees below your target doneness. (If you have the latest version of the Yummly thermometer with the tuna setting, it will alert you when to stop cooking. If you have the original version of the thermometer, use it in Manual mode.)
Tuna cook times are short, so stay close to the grill.
For 1-inch thick tuna steaks:
Rare (115°F) 4 to 6 minutes, turning once
Medium-rare (120°F) 6 to 8 minutes, turning once
Medium (135°F) 10 to 12 minutes, turning once
Medium-well (140°F) 13 to 15 minutes, turning once
Well-done (145°F) 16 to 18 minutes, turning once
For 1 1/4-inch thick tuna steaks:
Rare (115°F) 5 to 7 minutes, turning once
Medium-rare (120°F) 7 to 9 minutes, turning once
Medium (135°F) 11 to 13 minutes, turning once
Medium-well (140°F) 14 to 16 minutes, turning once
Well Done (145°F) 17 to 19 minutes, turning once
How to grill tuna with the Yummly Smart Thermometer
Now we're going to put the tips together to make my recipe for Grilled Tuna with Orange Teriyaki Glaze.
Ingredients for Grilled Tuna with Orange Teriyaki Glaze. Photo by Brittany Conerly
1. Set up your grill
Preheat your grill for high heat, 450° to 550°F. Give the cooking grates a swipe with a grill brush to be sure they’re clean and free of any residue from past cooks.
2. Make the glaze
While the grill preheats, round up your ingredients and make orange teriyaki glaze. In a small saucepan, reduce orange juice from 1 cup to 1/2 cup to intensify the orange flavor. Stir in some brown sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, fresh ginger, and a little water, and simmer briefly. Then thicken the glaze slightly with cornstarch.
Meanwhile, remove the tuna from the refrigerator. This allows the tuna to warm up slightly which will help it grill more evenly and more quickly than if it were straight from the fridge. (That said, it’s not necessary that the fish be at room temperature.)
3. Oil the fish
To help keep that tuna from sticking on the grill, rub the fish all over with a little neutral oil such as canola. Remember that too much oil can cause flare-ups. Season the tuna lightly with salt and pepper.
4. Insert the Yummly Smart Thermometer
Photo by Brittany Conerly
Following the prompts on the Yummly App on your phone, if you have the latest version of the Yummly Smart Thermometer, select Fish and then the Tuna setting. If you have the original thermometer, choose Manual mode and then the temperature doneness you prefer. Select “Tell me when to flip the food.”
Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of one of the tuna steaks all the way to the black cap. Ensure that no metal is exposed.
No Yummly thermometer? You can also check the temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
5. Grill and glaze
Grilling tuna over high heat. Photo by Brittany Conerly.
Add your tuna to the grill and cook with the lid closed. When the Yummly app alerts you to flip the tuna, use a wide spatula to turn it over.
After you flip the tuna steaks, generously brush the top of each with some of the orange teriyaki glaze. Continue grilling until the Yummly app lets you know the tuna is cooked just the way you want it.
Transfer the tuna to serving plates, let it rest for a few minutes, and then enjoy it with extra teriyaki on the side. Total time: about 25 minutes.
Get the recipe: Grilled Tuna with Orange Teriyaki Glaze
My teriyaki-orange glaze takes tuna to a whole new level of deliciousness, and it makes plenty for serving with simple side dishes like rice and vegetables. The glaze also works wonderfully well on pork as well as chicken.
More favorite grilled tuna recipes
All these great tips and techniques can be applied with equal success to other tuna recipes. Here are a few more to add to your repertoire.
This simple, straightforward recipe marries the subtle flavor of tuna with the citrusy pop of lemon. It speaks to those who prefer their tuna more cooked but not dried out!
Don’t let the long ingredients list deter you. This easy, quick-cooking recipe features the flavors of southern Italy: tomato, olives, white wine, garlic, capers, and fresh herbs that are quickly sauteed and simmered together, then served over a beautiful grilled tuna steak. Try this one summer evening with a glass of white wine and transport yourself to the Mediterranean.
This dish is as beautiful as it is tasty. The black and white sesame seeds make for a stunning presentation. The combination of soy sauce, lemon juice, and fresh ginger makes this a winner.
Did somebody say easy? A quick 30-minute marinade flavors your tuna and gets it grill-ready. Combine lemon juice (or lime or orange) with a little minced garlic, fresh or dried thyme (you can also use oregano or basil), and olive oil in a bowl. Add your tuna, and marinate for 30 minutes. Then grill yourself to a delicious dinner.
OK, after you try this one you might never go back to canned tuna salad. A slightly longer ingredients list is worth the effort (and you’ll probably find you already have everything you need in your pantry). This recipe calls for albacore tuna steaks that you grill, flake, and toss with a mayo-based dressing. That little bit of char makes all the difference.
This super flavorful grilled tuna marinade serves double duty when it's turned into a dang tasty sauce. Marinate the tuna in soy sauce, fresh lime juice, cilantro, ginger, garlic, and a touch of sugar, then grill. Place the marinade in a pan and reduce it slightly to intensify the flavor. Top your tuna with creamy avocado and spoon some of your sauce over the top. Easy and delicious.
Can you say “winner”? Tuna marries well with fruit, and this dish has it all. A quick orange-soy marinade goes a long way, adding a salty citrus bite to the tuna. Pineapple, red peppers, honey, and jalapeño are cooked together to make a sweet/spicy sauce that is finger-licking good.
Here’s the summer weeknight recipe you’ve been looking for. Plain grilled fish topped with a simple ginger aioli (mayo, ginger, minced garlic cloves) packs a lot of punch for such an easy dish. Serve it with a green salad and grilled veggies.
Four ingredients. Almost no prep time. Need I say more? A light coating of toasted sesame oil helps to counterbalance the spice of the black pepper that is pressed all over the steak. This recipe for how to cook tuna steak is as simple as it gets, but packs a powerful blast of flavor.
Be a whiz with fish
Don't get schooled in fish! We have more easy lessons — and loads of delicious recipes — in these next articles.